Prior to the 1990s, the primary source people received their news, especially national political news, was through the major three TV networks; ABC, NBC, and CBS, as well as, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. There was essentially only one point of view presented to the public about national politics. Even when these media outlets showed differing points of view, the perspectives were either so close, they were basically the same, or the opposition to the accepted narrative was presented in such an elementary way that it was easily discredited and dismissed.
For decades, one political ideology had a monopoly on which point of view would get presented to the people. It was only someone as charismatic as Ronald Reagan who could penetrate this media wall, and articulate a different perspective to America. This was evident with his landslide elections in 1980 and 1984, where the entirety of the media was against him, but he won anyway, in a convincing manner. It was apparent that there was a complete disconnect between the media and a large segment of the American people. These people were starving for something that the media refused to give them, a competing point of view.
I first listen to Rush Limbaugh in 1991 during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. When I first heard him speak, I felt like my eyes popped wide open. I could not believe what I was hearing. He was saying many of the things that I was thinking, but never said out loud because I never heard anybody else say those things publicly. I remember thinking, ‘you can actually say that?’ He was truly the boy proclaiming that, “the emperor has no clothes.” But it was more than that. It was almost as if he was giving permission to the rest of us to look at and think about politics different from the way it was presented on the nightly news and the national newspapers. He was confirming many of the things a lot of us were thinking. Millions of people finally had a counter-balance to the accepted media narrative.
Let’s be clear, Rush Limbaugh was not leading tens of millions of his listeners, he was validating them. For the first time since Reagan, there was a public voice articulating the thoughts and ideas that many of us believed in. It did not matter that they had to go to the backwaters section of the media, A.M. radio, to find it. It was out there for them. And for one third of a century, Rush Limbaugh was truly the king of the airwaves.
But just as important for our country, no longer was there an ideological monopoly in the media. Rush provided a point of view, a perspective that was purposely not being presented by the media outlets that controlled the public dialogue. His perspective created a much broader perspective for American politics. He gave our political discourse depth and fullness. Whether you viewed him as a hero or a villain, or somewhere in between, he was definitely necessary because in politics, as in all of life, myopia is a very bad way to view the world. And his was the strongest, most pervasive voice pushing against the incessant and destructive need to pull everyone into one big echo chamber.
It is almost ironic that Rush passed during a time when there is, once again, a strong push from political leaders to return American media to the days before Rush came on the scene. The censorship that we are witnessing of conservative points of view on social media, and the push by certain politicians to shut down networks like Fox News are gigantic steps in that myopic direction. The people in power are trying to return America to the days when the public only heard one political point of view, theirs.
So here we are fighting the same fight that Rush fought for a third of a century, the fight that we will have to fight for as long as our country is a country. But we must learn a lesson from Rush. We can still get our news and our opinions from non-main stream media venues, from backwaters sections of the Internet. We can delete Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and click on other political websites, just like we turned off ABC, NBC, and CBS, and listened to the A.M. radio, because regardless of what Nancy Pelosi and AOC and Chuck Schumer say, we are allowed to think these things and express our opinions, even if they are different from theirs, especially because they are different from theirs.
The truth is the truth, and the truth can come from the “mouth of babes”, a little boy walking on the street, a disc jockey on A.M. radio, or even some website that is banned by the social media giants. Thanks Rush, not for telling us what to think, thanks for showing us it’s okay to think for ourselves. Rest In Peace, Rush. You deserve it.
Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a frequent contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.